Travelling used to be thought of as both mind-enriching and enjoyable. Not any more

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive. Or so Robert Louis Stevenson reckoned. For me, travelling pleasurably is better than either.

Cruising along in a big Bentley Azure, relaxing into Connolly leather and Wilton carpet, roof down, sun and wind licking the scalp: that is travelling pleasurably. So is blasting down a deserted B-road in a Ferrari, engine barking behind your back, tyres slapping the tarmac, the whole car alive in your hands like some sort of semi-trained wild animal.

Not that enjoyable motoring need be the preserve of the rich: much cheaper "new breed" sports cars - the new MGF and the Fiat Coupe for example - can also give great pleasure on the right roads, as can certain affordable old-timers and even some (but not many) mainstream saloons.

Motorcycling can also be enjoyable in the right weather and on the right road. It is the most uncorrupted form of motoring, partly because it is the least legislated and the least widespread.

But, for most of us, travelling just isn't as much fun as it used to be. There is no pleasure in driving up a motorway or along an A-road in a dull, everyday car such as a Vauxhall Astra or a Ford Mondeo. They are transport tools, no more, no less, and they do their jobs well. But they do not do the jobs sublimely well. They are not designed to; that is not their role. They are symptomatic of what is wrong with modern day travel; too much emphasis on getting there, and not enough on how you get there.

The same is true of most modern-day trains and boats and planes. BR's InterCity 125s are ruthlessly efficient: a simple matter of high-speed conveying.

Same with flying. Even first-class flying on a top-rate airline such as BA is tedious: full of bored businessmen and marginally less bored stewardesses serving food rendered tasteless by the surroundings and by the fact that the "dining room" also doubles as the bar, TV room, video room, bedroom and living room. The only good thing about first-class flying is that it's better than economy class. Economy flying renders Stevenson's notion absurd: the best thing about it is arriving.

How marvellous those old long-haul flights must have been by comparison. Slower, of course: that's one of the reasons they were more enjoyable. Passengers on Imperial Airways sat in silk-and-satin furnished lounges, where ladies and gentlemen drank and dined with the captain. Overnight stops were in top hotels (where possible), a rather better place to sleep and eat than in the same chair where you've spent the rest of the flight.

However, nowhere is the loss of travelling pleasure more richly missed than in boats. Nowadays, about the only commercial boat trip most of us experience is the cross-Channel ferry, one of the most awful travelling experiences imaginable.

Mind you, if you've got the money you could mix a journey with a "pleasure cruise" and cross the Atlantic on the likes of the QE2. A pleasure cruise that also acts as transport, what an odd concept!

Am I the only person fed up with the pack 'em in, sell 'em cheap travelling philosophy of the Nineties, where planes and trains and boats are modelled on cattle trucks (with just a twist of comfort) and cars are thought of, by most drivers, many manufacturers and all legislators, as mere transport tools? Indeed, to say that you get pleasure from driving is almost deemed environmentally and therefore socially subversive.

Travelling used to be thought of as both mind-enriching and enjoyable - half the point of the excursion. Now it is merely the means to the end. To travel happily may not be a better thing than to arrive. But it used to be at least as important, and should be again.

Search for used cars